Military Spouse Care Support for Veterans

by francy Dickinson             

Dear Francy; My husband has been home from the middle east and the hospital for six months. He has had severe brain trauma and I have been his full-time care giver. We have two children under 10, a dog and his older mother with heart problems. His condition has recently changed with recurring epileptic type of fits that set him back in his recovery. I am so upset and have no support because if we complain we are put on lists and treated badly. Hard to explain, but I am feeling trapped and hurt and worried about our future. I need a life back for me too.

Thank you so for emailing me and I have taken off any personal information so I can share this with others. Please note that your husband has to make sure he is receiving medical care to its utmost. If you need to have a second opinion about his status you have to find out what the procedure is to get that opinion. That way you know the veterans hospital people have him on a good course and you can release your worry over his recovery.

As you know his recovery will take a very long time to rebuild the mind and U have to think of it as a dementia situation at this time and treat him as you would anyone recovering from a stroke or dementia. That means that it is both physical and emotional and those two have to be treated together. So if he displays emotional problems you have to be sure to note them and explain them with his doctor. Many people think that the brain is just recovering tasks and skills, but it is also recovering emotions and a mixture of good and bad emotions as it changes. This is part of his recovery and you should not keep it secret, just express his condition to this doctor as you would talking about your children’s symptoms, make it something that is a part of his healing.

That said, you are the main issue and you have to make sure you have a support system. There are groups of veteran wives that have nothing to do with any military connection. So search them out and see if they can fill a void you need filled with people who understand what you are going through. Together you are more powerful. I would think an online support of other veterans spouses that are going through similar things or those of us who are going through dementia and Alzheimer’s with our spouses is also a place you could gain information. Just having people to talk to that will not judge you is important. If you feel you might have problems with expressing your true thoughts then use another name for your online connections. That way you stay private.

Money, everyday life and more is hitting you at this time so I would say you really need support. I would also get yourself and your kids into a program that allows them to express their frustrations, too. There R mommy and me groups for pre school kids and YMCA and Boy n Girl clubs for kids. Getting them into a hobby helps you all, like training the dog to be active in field work or getting involved in a sport that is not going to cost a lot of money to enjoy. The family can then rally around together and still do enjoyable events.

Personally, the ring of stress is so much for you the only thing I think that could help at this time is a short escape for you. Since you can not afford a weeks rest, maybe a two-hour rest when the kids are in school and your husband is resting in the afternoon. Maybe letting the family watch TV and you go into another room and read a book or do a craft so it is your own time, to just be. Many times creative outlets will take the busy mind away to a place that is interesting and re-newing for the care giver.

You can always download audio books from NetLibrary and listen to them on an inexpensive MP3 player. You can also get books at library to teach yourself a craft or new skill. You can also get a cookbook like slow cooking and find some new recipes that would ease your cooking time and give you something new to think about. It is the little things that we do that are able  fit into a life that is already brimming over with tasks.

You can ask for help at home from family or community. There are organizations from churches, local and state governments and neighborhoods that will do a few things for you to ease your stress. Maybe get someone to come and clean with you once a month, or do your lawn in the summer or play ball with your kids. It does take some research, but the time on the phone could pay off in your feeling more support and less stress.

Talking, if you do not tell people you need help, they will not know you are in need. If someone came to you and said, I am in need and exhausted, would you not help them? YES you would. So, this is the time in your life you have to ask for help for you…it’s a very important step to bring others into your world and let them find a place to give you support. If I was a friend I would be phoning you just to make you laugh each night. I have done this for lots of my girl friends going through hard times. I am personally too busy with caring for my husband and working to spend time with friends, but I can chat them up in the after dinner hours and just get a 10 minutes break to laugh. It can make a huge difference on my end as well as theirs. Plus, it brings me back to a connection with others and knowing they have challenges too, I am not alone.

The kitchen time can be exercise time for you. Doing dishes and drying dishing, getting things in and out of drawers and cupboards. Your counter can be a barre and you can hold on and do some stretching, and balancing as you move around. Holding in your tummy as you work and moving your arms as you wait for the microwave to buzz or the water to boil. Thinking of your own breathing and doing that at least two to three times a day. Just good old deep breathing- nose in and mouth out breathing that will calm your body. Stretching like a cat in the morning and before bed, walking in place for 100 steps before dinner. Or standing and walking during the commercials, just in place and getting your heart to beat a little bit. Gyms and long walks may not work for you, but you can start to move and get your body to produce a few endorphins to help your brain relax.

Cleaning up things around you so you do not see a mess everywhere. Have the kids help you unload the car and give it a good vacuum and make them keep a plastic garbage bag in the backseat to empty after each ride.  So when you slip into your driver’s seat and you are tired and on the run, your surroundings are not cluttered with junk. Clear the inside of the car and you can keep a calm mind while you drive. 

Pick a closet or room each week and give things away and sell things and keep your home as calm as you can. It is a chore, but in a month its a chore that is done and gives you a sense of control over your home. Even if you take one garbage bag a week around your garage and throw things away, in a couple of months your garage will be so much better than it is now. Those are the things that really overwhelm us, when we simply can not keep up with small tasks. When you are on your own with family, care and chores…the chores have to go. So instead of doing it all…just force yourself to do a little each week and then you will feel more empowered.

It is easy for folks to say, I will come and help. But hard to say how they can help. One way…have your kids go visit friends. Have a friend come and sit to chat up your husband and have a neighbor collect your mail, have a friend call your mother in law every other day to check up on her. 

Take your husband in for a pedicure and get one yourself. You can find those small shops that are very inexpensive and it will be like a $20 dollar investment in your personal happiness. Take the kids over to McDonald’s and then U can get salads for you and your husband. Ask an older neighbor to bake a weekly pie or cookies and take her the flour and ingred. Ask your best friend’s husband to check your car fluids once a month. Get the kids to donate toys to a charity and then buy the family one game to enjoy together. Look for 2 for 1 dinners at diners and cafes so you and your husband can have that eat out time on a dime.

Go to the library for movie rentals and watch small older theaters for their family movie nights. Have your kids learn to cook and give each of them a special dinner. Then once a month they make their dinner and it gets better and better. That way you have a few nights off and they learn more than peanut butter sandwiche skills.

You can do it, and if you feel your depression has gone on longer than a few weeks and it is overwhelming you– It means it has gone into a chemical burn out and you simply have to get help. When your body is not responding to your emotions, you need a doctor to help you with it. You should feel tired and sad, but not feel so tired you can not move or so sad you can not talk or interact with your family. You have to take care of you, in order to keep the ball moving with your family. Dont be proud, this is a time for creative thinking, not a time for you to be silent and suffering. You are doing a job of ten, so make sure you pay yourself with kindness.

I am very proud of you and I hope you will look up my ebook “Senior Care Workbook 101” on my web site at it has all the basics that you need to help you with home care. It goes into lots of ideas how a spouse can make care giving easier. Blessings…francy